“ Sometimes you just have crawl in a hole in the dark and know that the next day will be better. It’s perfectly fine to spend an entire day sitting in bed. Then, when you do have a good day, seize that day and do everything you can.
Craig Pollard is one unique mAss Kicker! At age 15 he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, but it never slowed him down. He earned a merit scholarship to the University of Southern California, and signed a letter-of-intent with the nationally-ranked Trojan baseball program. At age 19 he relapsed. After a life saving bone marrow transplant at the City of Hope, he began his mission by devoting his time to other survivors. He served as a counselor at Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times. After spending some time with the children, Craig became keenly aware that they were inspired by him, a two-time-cancer survivor who was also in college. He saw that families often drained their life savings and retirement plans towards medications, operations and procedures not covered by insurance. College dreams are forsaken in place of just trying to keep a patient alive. Thus, Cancer for College was born.
In 2006, Craig’s body was attacked by an aggressive bacteria. The side effects of cancer treatment often lead to a compromised immune system. The bacteria caused severe damage in Craig’s extremities, and sadly, doctors had to amputate both his feet above the ankles. But Craig fought back and after months of physical therapy he was back on his (prosthetic) feet! At the 2006 Cancer for College golf tournament, only six months after having his feet amputated, Craig played golf in his prosthetics and the foundation proudly gave its first scholarship to an amputee. We are very honored to have Craig sit down and talk with us!
mK: What and when was your first diagnosis of cancer?
CP : My health history is pretty intense. I was first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in November of 1983. I had a relapse in October of 1987. In 2006, an aggressive bacteria attacked my body and due to my weakened immune system which was a result of my cancer treatment. The medication used to keep me alive caused circulation problems in my hands and feet that resulted in the amputation of my feet and some serious damage to my hands that required extensive therapy.
mK: How did you find out about your first diagnosis and what were your first symptoms?
CP : I noticed swollen lymph nodes in my neck and arm pit. My parents took me to my regular doctor and they prescribed for a series of three different antibiotics thinking it was an infection before they had me go in for a biopsy. It took almost three months before I was seen by a specialist.mK:: When was the first time you felt like yourself after your initial diagnosis?
CP : There were many times, even during treatment that I felt like myself. There were days where I would wake up and say wow, I feel pretty good today. I also learned that it was ok to spend a few days hiding under the covers in a darkened bedroom trying to sleep as much as possible.
mK: How or why did you start Cancer for College?
CP : Well, during my second battle with cancer, I was lying in my hospital bed praying to get better and I made a deal with God. I said, if you get me out of this hospital, I will do something that will make a difference. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I knew I would do something. I was working as a counselor at Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times which is a camp for very ill children. I saw the reaction these kids had when they found out I was a cancer survivor and I was going to college. It was like a ray of hope for them. I also saw firsthand the devastating effect the disease can have on families financially and how things we take for granted such as going to college can get pushed to the back burner while you are trying to stay alive. That was when the wheels started turning in my head. I knew I could do something to help these kids who had endured this terrible disease realize their dream of going to college.
mK: Cool. You are good buddies with Ron Burgundy AKA Will Ferrell. Tell us something we don’t know about Mr. Ferrell.
CP : He was a place KICKER on his high school football team.
mK:: (mAss) KICKERS are always a little different… What was the toughest challenge you faced as a survivor?
CP : It’s the fear that the disease will one day return. I combat that by always staying busy which doesn’t allow my brain much time to think about it.
mK:: Who is your hero and who do you look up to?
CP : I have multiple heroes that I look up to. Dr. Stephen Forman who is the Director of Hematology and Oncology City of Hope Medical Center. He helped me get healthy, but he has an amazing passion for his job that I admire. He loves what he does.
mK:: What motivates you on a day-to-day basis?
CP : The fact that I’ve had three life threatening illnesses has helped me see that every day is a gift and not a promise.
mK:: Cool. If you had to spend a day in a locked room with one person who would it be and why?
CP : Benjamin Franklin. I think he is the ultimate entrepreneur and would have no shortage of stories. He was a guy who was just as comfortable having a beer with a homeless man as he was sitting with the king and queen of England. He is one of my favorite people in history because of that.
mK:: What makes you laugh?
CP : My kids.
mK:: What makes you cry?
CP : My kids.
mK:: What makes you angry?
CP : My kids.
mK:: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
CP : I’d have to say scotch and dark chocolate. Not necessarily together, but I’m not opposed to trying that.
mK:: If you could have dinner with anyone who would it be?
CP : If Ben Franklin were not available, I’d have to say my wife. There, now she can read this article.
mK:: Smart answer. What is your perfect day?
CP : I’d say it would be a day on the beach with my family and nothing to do, preferably in Maui.
mK:: You have thrived as a survivor and as an amputee, what words of wisdom would you give to a survivor?
CP : Never give up.
mK:: What is the most interesting thing you have done in your life?
CP : I’d have to say watching my children being born. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.
mK:: What advice would you give someone facing a daunting diagnosis?
CP : I don’t like to give unsolicited advice. It’s a tough situation because everyone is different. I only offer if they ask. I prefer to be a friend in those situations. I do remember one time a patient who was going through chemo asked me for advice on how to get through it and I told them sometimes you just have to succumb to the bad days. Sometimes you just have crawl in a hole in the dark and know that the next day will be better. It’s perfectly fine to spend an entire day sitting in bed. Then, when you do have a good day, seize that day and do everything you can.Thanks for spending time with us Craig! Craig Pollard… President of Ben Franklin Fan club, scotch drinker, family guy, and inspiring cancer thriver! Check outCancer For College. They are doing great things!
interview by Christine Pechera